Thursday 24 Aug 2017

Interview with David Balcombe, Uniting Lentara

Please tell us about your background.

I come from very much a working-class background and after completing my degree in Commerce at Melbourne University I started what turned out to be a 40 ½ year career with a large accounting firm, Ernst & Young, ending up being a Partner in the firm. Up until now this was effectively my only real job before financial counselling. I specialised in audit and did some work in IT, internal audit, corporate advisory and in the latter years of my career in quality and risk management including auditor independence. I enjoyed my time at Ernst & Young tremendously, although of course I was working with clients who are very different to the clients I work with now. However, the principles of client service and commitment to providing something of value to our clients remains very much the same.

I am a registered company auditor and a registered tax agent, as well as a chartered accountant. I live in the inner suburbs with my wife, Judy, two children at university aged 22 and 24, and two cats Daisy and Arnold.


What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

I came to financial counselling with at least two motives, firstly to allow me to contribute something using the skills I gained in my many years in accounting and finance. Secondly after retirement at what I considered to be early age I was looking for some useful activity in my post Ernst & Young career.


What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?

My principle focus is problem gambling financial counselling but mixed with that is a range of general financial counselling as well. Gambling as an addiction can have a major impact on the financial situation of the client, and intermingles a wide range of human issues and emotions with the financial issues. Given my background I also relish the opportunity to provide assistance to clients who are suffering financial difficulties because of business, taxation and related issues.


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

Some of the most valuable things that I believe I've achieved to date are the simple ones e.g. providing some advice and assistance to clients where that advice really takes away the severe stress, strain and misapprehension that they have been living under. The reduction in their stress levels is sometimes palpable. Of course, achieving favourable traditional financial outcomes such as good payment arrangements or debt waivers are important as well but I think achieving success in the human dimension is also hugely important.

When a client says, “I feel much better now that I've talked to you” I really think that I've achieved something even if their financial situation hasn't changed significantly yet.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

I think there are a couple of challenges facing the financial counselling sector. Firstly, there is the sheer volume of need that is obviously there for the work that we do. This demand will only increase as wage growth continues to decline and the prices of utilities and housing continue to climb at an alarming rate. Worsening inequality is also a real challenge. The second major challenge for financial counsellors is to maintain the balance between strongly advocating for clients and maintaining the independence and integrity of the profession. Only if we maintain professionalism and integrity will be will we be able to achieve maximum goals with the creditors and suppliers that we interact with on behalf of clients.


What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?

I thought coming out of a tough commercial environment that I could easily handle the situations that I was going to encounter. That turned out not to be the case, even though I thought that I had a good understanding of the social issues I would encounter, it would be very different.

The best resource that I've had is the very practical and measured advice of my colleagues at Uniting Lentara in Broadmeadows. They are a great and diverse team and have a wealth of experience and on many occasions, they've had to give me advice about how to approach issues both from a practical and a human point of view. In particular, convincing me that I can only do my very best for people and you can't solve all the problems all of the time.


What book are you reading at the moment?

Recently I have enjoyed reading “Dig Tree”, the story of The Journey of Burke and Wills from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. An adventure, but also a story of the politics of the time.

The other book that I have read recently is “Faster, Higher, Farther” which is the Inside Story of the Volkswagen diesel fuel efficiency scandal. This is really a story about how corporate culture can be soured from the top. Remind you of any Australian financial institutions?


What are you currently watching?

In terms of viewing I have recently really enjoyed the Australian made, Melbourne-based comedy movie “Ali’s Wedding” the true story about the joys and challenges within the Australian Islamic community.

In terms of streaming I don't think you can go past “Better Call Saul”, the prequel to “ Breaking Bad”. This is the journey of a extraordinary character.